Best Albums of 2017 #3 Stormzy – Gang Signs & Prayer

The parallel is an oblique one, but 2017 just could’ve been to grime what 1977 was to punk. It’s taken much longer than Malcolm McLaren’s Dadaist joke for the sound of London’s sink estates to reach a similar point of both popular and literary critical mass, but finally after numerous false dawns it became the establishment’s public enemy number one.

All that does of course is raise the stakes and increase its allure, not that the grey faced moral guardians ever really got any of that. In that sense the door was open, and on Gang Signs & Prayer all six feet five of Michael Omari burst through it, hard at work on the likes of Bad Boys, Mr Skeng and the ubiquitous Shut Up, rhymes set down in the ego-dominated world of hard-earned and easily lost respect.

The same old fascinations lead to the same old accusations, but rather than allow himself to be dead ended, the sweet-tempered r&b of Cigarettes & Cush displayed a more empathetic side, whilst on Blinded By Your Grace Parts 1 & 2 he bravely called on gospel before plunging head first into the tensions between faith and lifestyle.

Gang Signs & Prayer was just as much an end as it was a beginning, confirming urban music for now as Britain’s most creative – and political – force, in turn making it a legitimate target for a culturally incontinent media. How it copes may depend on Stormzy and a few others with broad enough shoulders to see things through. In any case, Johnny Rotten should be proud.

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